Recognition for Chichester poet with blue plaque

Chichester mayor, John Hughes unveils the blue plaque at Kim's bookshop  Picture by Louise Adams
Chichester mayor, John Hughes unveils the blue plaque at Kim's bookshop Picture by Louise Adams

A LONG-FORGOTTEN Chichester poet has been honoured with a blue plaque – fittingly at Kim’s Bookshop in South Street.

The bookshop was once home to Charles Crocker, a 19th-century Cicestrian, who was also a 
famous poet in his time, writing about Sussex.

His work was unearthed by Chichester historian Alan Green, who said Mr Crocker’s fame ‘literally died with him way back in 1861’.

Mr Green had come across the poet’s work in a book about the River Lavant, which cited Mr Crocker’s poem about the river.

He found a copy of The Vale of Obscurity, Kingley Vale, The Lavant and Other Poems, a collection of Mr Crocker’s poetry, at Lewes Book Fair in 2012.

After discovering the poet was ‘rather good’, he started looking back at the Mr Crocker’s life.

Mr Crocker’s story is an interesting one, starting his life in 1797 and becoming an apprentice to a shoemaker at the age of 11.

But his real passion was poetry, and he was offered a job in 1839 with an East Street bookseller, who published his first volume.

He was also a Chichester correspondent for the Hants Advertiser, cementing his reputation as a wordsmith.

In 1845 he joined the cathedral staff as sexton, and wrote a guide book called A Visit To Chichester Cathedral.

But all the while, he was writing poetry, and his fame started when some of his verses 
were published in the Brighton Herald.

He then published his first volume of poems, and it was obviously a hit – as three 
further editions were printed in his lifetime.

Mr Green said Crocker had 
also been praised by the Poet Laureate of the day, Robert Southey, and was mourned by the Gentlemens’ Magazine at his death so had ‘achieved national recognition’.

“Study of the praise heaped upon him in his lifetime and 
at his death, and the letter 
to his friends, reveals he was not only a thoroughly good egg, 
but a most worthy Cicestrian,” said Mr Green.

“I carried out some research on him for an article for the Chichester Local History Society Journal, during the course of which I learnt there was a portrait of him in the cathedral library.”

He contacted the cathedral’s librarian, 
Dr Charlotte Hansen, 
who found the portrait.

“In his portrait I saw a contented and kindly man, the sort of man 
who would be everybody’s favourite uncle,” said Mr Green

But Mr Crocker also suffered during his life.

“He was also a man whose life had known great sadness, having endured the triple tragedy of losing his wife of just two years and two young sons,” said Mr Green.

His sons, John and Henry, had died aged six and three, and his wife, Phoebe, had died within two years of their marriage,

But he married again, and Mr Green discovered a ‘tender’ relationship between Mr Crocker and his second wife.

In the collection of poems which Mr Green had managed to get hold of, he found an unpublished poem handwritten on the flyleaf, dedicated to his second wife Mary.

It is entitled To My Wife on her Last Birthday, which Mr Green said was ‘fittingly sentimental for the Victorian era’.

The final edition of 
Mr Crocker’s poems was published in 1860, with 42 poems and 58 sonnets.

He died just one year later, at his home, 28 South Street, which is now Kim’s Bookshop.

He was survived by his wife Mary and three of their children, and was buried at St Paul’s churchyard at Northgate.

Since then, memories of Mr Crocker and his poetry have faded with time, but Mr Green hopes to bring about a revival.

He was awarded a blue plaque for Mr Crocker at this year’s Chichester City Council’s Civic Awards, which was presented by councillor Richard Plowman.

It now sits in pride of place outside Kim’s Bookshop in 
South Street.

And to mark the occasion, Mr Green and Dr Hansen decided to put on a small Crocker exhibition in the cathedral, featuring the portrait and a copy of his poems and manuscripts.